Hundreds of Nepali troops yesterday searched for a missing US Marine helicopter with eight people on board, a day after a second powerful earthquake in less than three weeks killed more than 60 people.
The Himalayan nation is still reeling from last month’s quake measuring a magnitude of 7.8 that killed more than 8,000 people and injured close to 20,000. Tuesday’s 7.3 quake has killed 67 people and destroyed many houses.
The US helicopter was delivering aid in Dolakha, one of the districts hit hardest by both quakes, when it went missing with six Marines and two Nepali troops on board.
In the district capital Charikot, relief and military helicopters brought people wounded when buildings collapsed and landslides struck in outlying hamlets to an open-air clinic where they were treated on bloodied tarpaulins.
On one flight was Uttav Nepali from Singati village, where there was a large landslide under which authorities believed people were still buried. He said only a handful of houses were left standing.
“I was outside when the quake struck. Bricks and the top floor of my shop fell down and crushed my arm and back,” Nepali said, as he sat among villagers from other communities and waited to find out if he was headed to Kathmandu for treatment.
The helicopters alternated between evacuating and helping find the Marine Corps UH-1Y ‘Huey’ helicopter, which lost radio contact after its crew was heard talking about fuel problems.
A Nepali military official said it appeared the helicopter might have come down in one of the rivers that snake through valleys in Dolakha district east of the capital, Kathmandu.
Six other helicopters joined hundreds of ground troops in the search for the missing aircraft.
“The info we have is that it is down in one of the rivers, but none of the choppers has seen it yet,” said Major Rajan Dahal, second-in-command of the Barda Bahadur Battalion, adding that 400-plus ground troops are also looking for the helicopter.
A spokeswoman for the Marines said there had been no confirmed sightings of the helicopter and that she did not have information that it had landed in a river. She said relief operations were ongoing but diminished while the search was on.
“Primarily we want to make sure that we get all our service members and the Nepalese service members home safely. That is primarily where the focus has been today,” public affairs officer Cassandra Gesecki said.
An official with Nepal’s home ministry, Laxmi Prasad Dahal, said he feared the search was diverting resources from relief and rescue operations. “The work of sending relief and rescuing the injured people to hospitals has been delayed due to this,” he said.
Charikot, about 75 km east of Kathmandu, was one of the hardest-hit areas. Most of the fatalities reported from Tuesday’s quake were in towns and villages like Charikot, which were only just beginning to pick up the pieces from last month’s quake.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved